Harry used to be cynical about love.
Maybe it's just because he's always thought about things too much. He'd always try to rationalise feelings and reduce them to tangible details. Maybe you could fall in love with certain parts of a person, but the entirety? That seems kind of improbable, all things considered. Maybe love's really just an idea. Maybe it's an illusion we create by extrapolating tiny moments into some obscure picture of happiness. Maybe it's a trick of our own devising.
It's not that he doesn't believe it exists. It's just kind of hard to imagine finding it without wanting to pick it apart, disassemble it, examine the pieces, until there was hardly any of that first emotion left. It's hard to imagine it being simple.
So, there are lots of things he wants. He wants to do things that make him happy, he wants to meet people who make him smile, he wants to feel like he's done the same for other people. But he's not sure he wants love. Because he doesn't think he'd know how to love someone wholly.
But then there's Louis.
There's Louis, who loves with his hands, and his mouth, and his eyes, and his entire body.
Louis who turned his world upside down along with everything he'd ever believed.
Louis who lives and laughs and loves everything so intensely.
And he loves Harry, too, only his love is divided among so many things.
Harry's always thought that all love was fragmented and incomplete, but he wants all of Louis'. He wants all of it for himself.
He doesn't really get it (and he's had passing thoughts every so often, yes, but they were always interrupted, by reasoning, by his circumstances, by other more urgent thoughts) until the first night after they move in together.
They'll tell people "it just happened" and it's true, it is. There wasn't much of a question about it. It just felt like the logical thing to do. After spending all that time basically in each other's pockets, choosing to be together afterwards even when they didn't have to, constantly texting each other when they both went back home, missing each other like a limb sometimes.
It should just be a natural progression of their relationship. And it is, in a lot of ways. Only it's different too.
In retrospect, they haven't actually spent that much time alone together. Between the show, and the tour, and the cameras, and the other lads, it's really never been like this before.
And Harry finally, finally has that time. Has the time to think about it. Because before, he was so busy just experiencing it, just getting pulled in by Louis and all the noise and colour and activity that is constantly surrounding him.
He's lying in bed when it hits him, like a ton of bricks, like the world crashing down on him, like his lungs collapsing.
He can't breathe. It's like his heart is being squeezed in his chest by a giant fist. It's this sick, helpless feeling. And he wants to cry. Or scream. He ends up laughing hysterically into his pillow instead.
Because it's fucking insane, this whole thing. But looking back, he should have seen it coming. Anyone could have seen it coming.
And he's been so stupid, so fucking stupid. Because maybe that's how it happens. It happens when you're not the least bit interested in finding it.
Harry realises he's in love with Louis, and there are approximately a million and one reasons why he shouldn't be (there's a list in the back of his head he keeps adding to), but he is. And it's not ever going to go away.
It's almost painful how aware he is of everything they do after that.
They're watching a movie, and Louis keeps laughing and throwing popcorn at him (and that's reason #137), and he's thinking that he just wants to hold his hand. And how ridiculous it is that such a tiny gesture is such a big fucking deal. Because Louis's pretty much sprawled all over him, like usual, but just extending his fingers an inch to touch his would be some weird violation of their boundaries. Louis doesn't even believe in boundaries, or personal space, or verbal filters. Louis is himself, all the time, on national television or reading the newspaper in his underwear at their kitchen table.
Harry doesn't know how to do that, though. He's doesn't know how to not be so damn careful, how to not analyse every move he and everyone else makes. Because suddenly, they're all alone, and the walls seem to be closing in, and he's in love with him, and something they've done a million times before takes on all this extra meaning.
Louis laughs inappropriately loudly at the TV, and he just sighs and wants to sink into the couch.
He'd think he was doing it to purposely cause him pain if Louis wasn't usually so oblivious all the time anyway.
They pretty much fall asleep in each other's beds most nights now.
Sometimes the flat feels so big, like all that space doesn't belong to them, and they just need to feel like themselves again. Usually, this involves curling around each other really tightly in a corner of the bed.
One night, they don't though. And it's weird, and uncomfortable, and Harry twists and turns, until he doesn't want to anymore. To think or want or feel. It's just too much.
He doesn't know if it's better or worse - that Louis is so close all the time. He doesn't know if that might eventually be enough, just having him there, just being with him in any capacity, or if it makes it more painful than ever.
He can't sleep without him though, and that's some kind of sign. It hurts to think about it though. About getting so used to something, you physically can't function without it.
He crawls into Louis' bed and Louis just makes a low, sleepy sound. He seems to relax too though, somehow. Harry feels a heel kick gently at his shin, acknowledging his presence.
Maybe it's the dark or because his face is turned away from Harry or because all the words he hasn't said feel like they're weighing down his body if he keeps them inside any longer.
He whispers it in his ear.
"Do you love me?"
It's so quiet, almost incomprehensible with sleepiness.
"Yeah, Harry, yeah..."
He stills completely after that, breathing gradually evening out. Harry just listens for what seems like hours.
Eventually, he turns over on his back, not looking at him anymore but content to just feel his body, solid and warm, next to him.
It becomes this ridiculous game after that. Getting him to say it. Getting him to say, "I love you more than chocolate cake, but not as much as cookie dough ice cream." Getting him to say, "I love you more than Liam but less than Niall."
Because sometimes Harry is selfish and terrible and he needs measurable indicators of his worth. Even with Louis who expresses exaggerated emotion so freely and unrestrained. Maybe it doesn't mean anything anymore, no matter how many times he says it. He was probably one of those kids who'd say "I love you" to the stars and moon and sky before he went to sleep at night. He's addicted to the word.
Harry doesn't ever say it, unless he's joking.
He doesn't know if he could ever handle everything that would inevitably be pulled to the surface with it.
He even goes a step further.
"Do you think Louis loves me?"
It's almost, Do you think Louis really loves anything? Because when you love everything, maybe you actually love nothing at all. Harry only knows how to love one thing the way Louis loves, and it's him. And that's even worse, he supposes, because when you love one thing so much, you won't ever survive losing it.
"Is this a serious question?" Liam's eyebrows go all furrowed which would be adorable if he wasn't looking so annoyed.
"Yeah, I mean, obviously he loves all of us. But is it just because he's Louis or because..."
"You're an idiot, Harry."
"Hey, that's uncalled for."
Liam sighs really heavily before he says, "Just tell him."
"Just tell him what?" he says, feigning innocence.
"That you've been in love with him since you met him."
"That's not true."
"Really?" His tone of mock-disbelief is pretty impressive, really.
"Well, I only just figured it out a couple weeks ago, so..."
"Wow." This time it's genuine disbelief.
"Just tell him."
He decides to put all pretenses aside, because this has been so, so hard, and maybe he needs to talk about it.
"But...but what if he doesn't love me like I love him." It's the scariest thought he's ever had in his life. And it's even scarier to voice it.
Liam sighs again, but it's like he's sorry, like he understands how hard it's been for him, how hard it will be.
"I won't pretend to understand Louis all the time. But you have to tell him. Because if he does, it'll be worth it. I'm sure of that."
"I just...I don't want to lose him."
Liam gives him a tiny smile and says, firm, like a promise, "You won't."
Obviously, Harry decides the solution to all of this is to get absolutely pissed.
Louis doesn't hesitate to join him.
They put on Lady Gaga and Louis twirls him around and around until he falls onto the couch, dizzy and nauseous.
"I'm going to puke," he says, and then laughs.
He doesn't though.
Instead he starts rambling drunkenly and it's pretty much the beginning of the end.
"Why did we move in together?" he asks, words coming out even slower than usual.
"I don't know. So we could do this?" And then they both giggle at each other for about a minute.
"God, Harry, why are you asking this? Is this why you've been acting so weird?"
"What? I haven't been "acting weird"," he says, doing the air quotes and everything.
"Yes, you have," Louis says seriously. "Sometimes you don't ever want to leave my side, and other times, it's like you can't wait to get away from me."
It feels like the beginning of some kind of twisted break-up or something, and no, no, this is the opposite of anything he wanted.
"Louis, no, it's not. It's not like - It's not anything you think."
"How do you know what I think?"
"Because you're you. And you make rash assumptions. And I haven't been helping. And I'm sorry."
"Why are you sorry?" And there's so much concern in his eyes that Harry wishes he'd never said anything. But now he has to finish. There's no other choice.
"I'm sorry I never told you what I wanted. And then resented you for not knowing."
"Harry..." He looks a bit confused, and also a bit...hopeful? And that's weird.
"I - God, it's really fucked-up, I know. But suddenly we were away from the whole circus and all the craziness and we were just us. And we were the same as before, but there was this whole other thing too. And I realised that I wanted that. I wanted more. I want this to be more."
"Harry, are you saying...?"
"Yeah. I'm saying it. I'm in love with you. And there are eight hundred and twenty six reasons why I shouldn't be but...there it is."
There's a really long silence where they just sit and look at each other.
Louis' hands are all tangled together in his lap, and God, he's never seen him look like this, confused and kind of scared, almost childlike. He just wants to reach across and take his hand, but there's this other new, even more impassable barrier between them now, and Harry's never hated it more.
He quietly gets up and goes to bed.
Louis doesn't try to stop him.
He wakes up to throw up a couple hours later. His head is pounding when he gets back into bed. He hits the pillow a few times out of frustration, but he feels so weak, and then he curls up and cries.
He stays in bed till midday. When he finally emerges, Louis's in the same spot on the couch, almost like he'd never left.
"Hey," he says, voice rough. His throat is sore, like he'd been screaming. Like the words from last night had hurt him on their way up.
"Hey," Louis says, and there's only relief on his face.
Harry takes it as an invitation to sit down. His head falls onto Louis' shoulder instinctively, and Louis puts an arm around him.
"Are you freaked-out?" he asks after a while, nervously.
"No. I don't know. Just really, really surprised."
"I was totally freaked-out," Harry admits.
"You should have told me. So we could freak out together." He laughs under his breath. Harry's lips quirk up into a little smile.
"Wouldn't have been the same kind of freak-out though."
"Harry," he says, and it's like he's choking up. "I - You know I -"
"You love me. Yeah. But you don't love me in that way."
"Hey," he's saying urgently, and he's tugging at Harry's arm, making him look at him.
"I love you in every way," Louis says, and Harry knows it's the truest thing he's ever said to him. And he's definitely tearing up. Harry just stares at him wide-eyed, until he nods to reassure him that, yeah, he means that.
"God, Liam's right. I'm a total idiot." But he's smiling so, so hard that his cheeks start to hurt.
"Sorry. I should have -" Louis starts, and he's looking down regretfully. "I think I just couldn't believe it. I guess I stopped thinking you ever would...and I just froze, I guess."
And that makes him grin even more as he says, "But you never freeze."
"I do for you, apparently," and there's so much of it in his eyes. So much of that emotion Harry couldn't speak - but Louis always felt, for everything, and especially for him - and he didn't even believe in for so long.
Harry takes one of Louis' hands in his lap, and rests the other on his face to pull him forward. Louis kisses him slowly, almost exploring, like he wants to make this last forever. Harry tries to tell him, without words, that it will. It will.